COVID-19 Op-ed

Understanding the Social Dimension of Receiving Aid

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Ma. Rhea Gretchen AbusoChair
at the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Xavier University,

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UN Human
Rights) declares that poverty is an urgent human rights issue. Poverty simply
renders basic human rights out of reach for people living in poverty. And as
every country today grapples with the impact of COVID 19, poverty is the
biggest hindrance for many governments in enforcing social quarantine
measures. Social distancing is just impossible for the urban poor who live in
cramped spaces and rely on mass transportation to earn a living. Consider
that low income families could barely get by and live hand-to-mouth when the
economy was open, how much more now? This is the grim reality for 18 million
families in the Philippines.To “mitigate the socio-economic impact of the
COVID-19 health crisis and the Enhanced Community Quarantine guidelines”, the
Philippine government rolled out its Social Amelioration Package to provide
cash aid to 18 million poor families in the country. While this is a much
needed relief for many Filipinos no longer able to support themselves,
increasing discontent from the middle class who feel excluded began to creep
into online discussions. Cash aid was also criticized as encouraging, even
rewarding, mendicancy among the poor. A more sinister disease is taking hold
in Philippine society, one that will remain long before the world finds a
cure for COVID 19: what sociologist Jayeel Cornelio calls “The persistence of
blaming the poor”. The vilification of vulnerable population for receiving
aid is creating a social conflict that pits the middle class against the
“poorest of the poor”. This piece is my attempt to explain the societal
dimension of the desperation and hunger that reverberates in every poor
household in the Philippines.As a sociologist, I am inclined to discuss this
issue using the classic sociological concept of class
introduced by Karl Marx almost 200 years ago. Class
struggle is the conflict between segments of society over valued resources.
Marx explains that an economic system dominated by capitalists (think Forbes
list of richest Filipinos) rely on a large poor and exploited population
called proletariat to make profit for their businesses.
It is in the best interest of capitalists to keep the majority of Filipinos
poor, uneducated and with no choice but to accept wages that could not even
afford them the product of their daily labor. This system that deifies rich
capitalists and disparages the poor have kept generations of Filipino
bourgeoisie on top of those top richest list.However,
this exploitative system does not enrage most Filipinos at all. When the entire
island of Luzon was placed on lockdown, thousands of people still endured the
long queues at checkpoints and braved the streets of Manila hoping to earn
the meager income they can to feed their families. They were quickly
disparaged as undisciplined and irresponsible.
Explaining social problems such as poverty, unemployment and homelessness as
shortcomings of individuals rather than as a fundamental flaw of society is
what Marx calls false consciousness. In his time, Marx
pleaded for people to recognize the real and more persistent social problem:
society’s predilection to demonize the poor for their inability to protect
themselves from a cruel and exploitative social system.I have spent much of
my time as a sociology teacher urging my students to see the societal
dimension of poverty and I make the same appeal here. The poor desperately
needs the support of the government and society at large to survive the
pandemic. Vilifying them for defying the quarantine orders and in receiving
aid only worsens the problem. In this difficult time, poor families simply
cannot survive on their own. As we come out of this crisis, my hope is that
we not only emerge healthier and stronger but that we become more compassionate
and humane individuals. All of us have a role play and a responsibility to
take in caring for each other’s wellbeing.References:Chiu,
Patricia Denise M. 2020. “DSWD Says P100B Ready for Release; Poorest First.”
Inquirer News DSWD Says P100B Ready for Release Poorest First Comments.
Retrieved April 9, 2020 (,
Jayeel Serrano. 2017. “Why Poverty Is Not a Choice.” Rappler. Retrieved April
11, 2020 (,
Jayeel. 2018. “ The Persistence of Blaming the Poor.” Rappler. Retrieved
April 10, 2020 (,
Stefanie and Nick Papageorge. n.d. “The Unequal Cost of Social Distancing.”
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. Retrieved April 09, 2020 (,
Cathrine. n.d. “LOOK: Long Queues Mark 2nd Day of Community Quarantine in
Metro Manila.” Inquirer News LOOK Long Queues Mark 2nd Day of Community
Quarantine in Metro Manila Comments. Retrieved April 15, 2020 (,
John J. 2012. Sociology. 14th ed. Upper Saddle
River, NJ: Pearson/Prentice Hall.Mapa, Claire Dennis S. 2019. “Proportion of
Poor Filipinos Was Estimated at 16.6 Percent in 2018.” Philippine Statistics
Authority. Retrieved April 10, 2020 (
of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. n.d. “Special Rapporteur on
Extreme Poverty and Human Rights.” OHCHR. Retrieved April 10, 2020 (

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